The willful captains of Deadliest Catch have sailed back to Discovery Channel for season 18. As if treacherous seas, unruly weather, and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic weren't enough of a challenge, the captains and their crew of crab fishermen face a new obstacle this season that could sink their livelihoods: the Alaskan government's shutdown of red king crab catching for the season.
For the first time in 25 years, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced that the Bristol Bay red king crab fishery would close for the 2021-22 season due to the lack of mature female red king crab required to sustainably keep it open. Captains Josh Harris, Sig Hansen, Johnathan Hillstrand, and other beloved members of the Deadliest Catch community have since turned to alternative sealife to stay afloat and pay the bills, including golden king crab and black cod, among others.
Along with Hillstrand, Harris and his co-captain Casey McManus secured the bid to catch golden king crabs aboard their F/V Cornelia Marie. The catch? They're tougher to fish since they live deeper in the ocean. These challenges are front and center in the premiere, which also features the return of Harris' estranged older brother, Shane. He joins the crew to help out — a longtime wish of their late father, legendary captain and Deadliest Catch staple Phil Harris, who died in 2010 after he suffered a stroke.
Discovery Channel Co-captains Casey McManus and Josh Harris in 'Deadliest Catch'
Below, Harris discusses his brother's return and breaks down moments from the premiere episode, including that tense crab pot retrieval scene with Hillstrand and McManus out at sea. "I wasn't actually thinking that it would work," Harris admits. Read on for more.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The last few seasons explored COVID-19 tolls, and now, there's the shutdown of red king crab catching. What has the filming experience been like this season with these obstacles?
JOSH HARRIS: My whole life I've definitely overcome a lot of obstacles, but between the government shutdown and COVID, it's been really tough to keep a crew. It's been tough to keep a boat afloat. We have to pay people ten times what we usually pay just to get people up there. With COVID, it's quarantine for two weeks at a hotel and we're not allowed to leave the boat once we're on it, especially if you're delivering crabs to a different area. You're not allowed to leave the boat or come in contact with anybody from the processor's standpoint of view, so that's really tough. They shut down the red crab [fishing], so to have our season shut down, it was really quite scary. A lot of our friends went bankrupt during this time. They just couldn't keep up with all of these different hurdles. It's been really bleak. A lot of guys aren't going to make it past this year.
You're fishing for golden king crab as an alternative, but as we see in the premiere, they're harder to catch since they live deeper in the ocean. Were there any other obstacles that weren't captured on camera?
Just out of the gate, golden king crabs are a nightmare. That's a totally new species of crab that I was not prepared to catch and I don't think my crew was either. I mean, that's a nightmare itself. We came with the mindset that we were hopefully going to catch red crab this year, but it was shut down, and there were different options of things we could do. Gold king crabs are a complicated thing to do, but we didn't have a choice. ... We're just trying to stay afloat and keep the boat moving.
What are the differences between fishing for red vs. golden king crabs?
If we were fishing for red king crab, we would probably use like two shots of line, and these pots for golden king crabs, we would use ten shots of line, so that's enough for six or seven pots for normal red king crabs. So it was an absolute nightmare. It was scary. You're setting the pots down 10 times as deep as they normally should be going, and that's a lot of work. There was a lot of danger involved with hauling that much line, and it takes a long time and really takes a toll on the guys, too. This crab is just so deep into the ocean. One pot is equivalent to about seven pots. It is deep down there and you catch a lot of weird things. You're going miles deep into the ocean. It's really creepy.
Discovery Channel 'Deadliest Catch' season 18
Your estranged brother Shane returns to Dutch Harbor for the first time in 25 years to help you and co-captain Casey on the journey. What can you tease about that dynamic for the rest of the season?
My older brother is awesome. He got really smart, he got out of the industry, he has his own company. He's a great guy.
We ended up needing a hand. It's really hard to find good help in this day and age. Somehow I bamboozled him into [helping]. My older brother has always been my hero.
After you lose some crab pots in the ocean, you and Casey devise a plan to retrieve them with the help of Captain Johnathan Hillstrand and his Time Bandit, connecting both of your boats via rocket launcher lines to fish out the pots from the ocean. Tell me more about filming that moment.
On paper, they came up with this idea that looked like it was really smart and going to be easy. In real life, it was not, when you're actually doing this type of maneuver between two boats. And you've got the film guys that are like, "We need you to do this real quick." It's like, we're right in the middle of something. You've got the line stuck on the wheel, we're in crappy weather. It was a cockamamy idea but it worked. The film guys were like, "Hey could you do this again for us real quick?" and it's like, "No! We can't! This is a one time deal, man!" We're just trying to get our stuff back. I don't know if it's going to work. And they're like, "Is there any way we could just slow this down?" and it's like, "No, we can't slow this down." You want to jump out of the car at 60 miles per hour, you're probably going to fall. It's going to hurt. We just have to keep going. I don't know how to explain it, but there's no slowing down. There's no pause button. And the idea worked, so. I wasn't actually thinking that it would work, but I mean, it did seem great on paper. To be quite honest with you, I didn't quite understand what Jonathan and Casey had going on. I may not be the smartest man on the planet, but it was a pretty interesting thought process to retrieve these pots. I've seen crazier things happen. But you know, things worked out. Nobody died. Nobody got their arms ripped out. It worked out pretty good.
Your late father Phil was a legendary captain and mainstay of the series. What's the most important thing you've learned from him that you carry when you're out at sea?
Thinking back on the old man, one of the most important things is "Never grow a mullet." I know that to be true. My dad likes his haircut the way it was. I'll never have one. Also, the crab farts [theory]: they're not real. It's a joke. Crabs do not fart. It's a lie, for everybody out there. My dad was making a joke. He was such a rad dude. The crew loved him so much. They worked for him, the same guys, for 15 years. It's hard to keep a crew for 15 years. I just want to live with a good heart, be a good captain like he was… and just have fun, even when it's crappy out there. There are a lot of days out there when the guys want to give up. It's a nightmare trying to keep everyone's mind in the game. My dad was always good with keeping everyone's mind in the game.
Discovery Channel 'Deadliest Catch' season 18
Did you always know that you wanted to carry on this family enterprise? Was there anything else you wanted to do?
I didn't think that I wanted to carry this on. It's a lot of responsibility. I was pretty lost. After I lost the old man, I didn't really know what I wanted to do. I kind of resented going into the wheelhouse. I wasn't sure if I was going to continue this on because it was pretty sad. I lost my dad, my brother's now gone, and I lost my grandpa. It was one thing after another. Johnathan revived me. He took me under his wing, him and [his brother] Andy. They showed me that fishing can be fun and I'm pretty good at it, so that's when I decided to come back. What I would do if I didn't do this, I have no clue. But I'm pretty good at fishing. We've got a Hawaii gig going and we've got this gig going. We'll do this as long as we can. If we can't do crab fishing anymore, I guess we'd be fishing in Hawaii full time.
What can you tease about the rest of season 18? What are you most excited for viewers to see?
I'm excited to see what people think about my older brother. He's back. That guy is a goofball. And he's super ripped, so I can't beat him up and I can't outrun him, but I get to be his boss. That's pretty cool. He's a really cool guy.... He worked his tail off.
Deadliest Catch is not your average reality show, but it has such a devoted following. Why do you think the show resonates?
In my opinion, it's for real people with real problems. It's not a scripted show. In my life, I can't tell you how many people still to this day come up and give me a hug and say they've lost somebody or gone through things you're going through or have been through. A lot of people can relate to that. Every year it's something new. We incorporate more about peoples' lives and what their struggles are… We're all just trying to survive and make it through COVID times and everything else that's going on. This world is a crazy world we live in right now. Some days it feels like it's a nightmare, but we're all going through it together. They get to watch the problems we have at home and problems we have at our business. They get to watch us grow up. S---, my whole adult life I've been on TV. They've watched me grow up. I'm getting gray hairs in my beard, trying to make decisions like a real adult. It's something else. I talked to a kid yesterday. He was like, "Man, I've been watching you since I was seven years old." Man, it made me feel old. Now I'm starting to talk like my dad. I always said I wouldn't be like my dad, but come to find out, I say some of the stuff he'd used to say and I'd used to make fun of him for saying. Like, oh God. I'm turning into my dad.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
New episodes of Deadliest Catch air Tuesdays on Discovery at 8 p.m. ET/PT.